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Learning Languages, Impossible???

  • TheAlchemixt Posts: 2283
    QUOTE Nov 29, 2012 9:38 AM GMT
    Does anyone here know anyone that has actually learned a language from scratch without going to the country of the language in which they are studying?
    I know many people who have taken like 6 years of Spanish, French, or German but can barely speak any of it. Is it possible to learn languages without going to the country?
    Has anyone met anyone who has done so? I've only met two Americans who have learned a foreign language as an adult but they only learned because they had been immersed in the culture.
    Do you think learning languages without being immersed is impossible???
  • Posted by a hidden member.Log in to view his profile
    QUOTE Nov 29, 2012 10:43 AM GMT
    I have a friend who's my age who learned Japanese in college and he got high marks and made a few friends to practice with, so it probably just depends on the person.
  • Posted by a hidden member.Log in to view his profile
    QUOTE Nov 29, 2012 12:28 PM GMT
    I wish there was one set answer, but there's not. It's highly variable, and there's no proven theory... yet. Here's the suggestion that I follow which has a huge auditory bias:

    When we are young we acquire language. This includes bilingual and trilingual acquisition. By the time the auditory system fully develops, 7 to 10 years of age, we must then learn language instead of acquiring it. These are two entirely different processes.

    This is a huge topic because there's such a variability in the way people learn a second language. There is evidence that our auditory system is tuned to our primary language and dialect by 6 months of age. There's stronger evidence that this fine tuning becomes broader with age. That's not a good thing. We become less efficient at frequency discrimination and other processing abilities like gap detection that give us the ability to process an auditory signal.

    We process language primarily in afferent and efferent pathways of the left hemisphere, but the right hemisphere is also involved in abstracting ideas and meaning hidden in language. Think 'It's raining cats and dogs' and how that sounds to a foreign speaker of English. I read some even crazier research the other day about the male corpus callosum in that it atrophies starting at age 25 faster than our female counterparts.

    The conclusion is we have to hear the language correctly before we can speak it. Many intricate processes are involved in that and begin to break down earlier than we'd like to think. My psychologist friends would argue other processes involved in the lexical development. However the most concise theory that we all agree on is that the brain is plastic but not that plastic.

    Good Luck!
  • MuchMoreThanM... Posts: 21634
    QUOTE Nov 29, 2012 12:39 PM GMT
    I didn't start seriously studying Spanish until I was in my thirties. I think it all depends on the person and their willingness to apply themselves and be creative.


    In my case, what helped me a lot was buying DVDs in Spanish and playing them in my home repeatedly. You get colloquialisms, idiomatic expressions and jargon down pretty fast for casual and formal speaking situations. It really helps you to sound like a native.

    Having a language exchange is also very helpful. Find someone who's a native speaker in the language you want to learn who also wants to practice his or her English. You split the time in half practicing in both languages and this can help a great deal.

    Good luck.
  • Karl Posts: 5751
    QUOTE Nov 29, 2012 12:48 PM GMT
    Im Vietnamese and I've learnt English for 8 years , now I study Spanish in Uni.
    But seriously I find it's hard to speak properly because I speak English like-a-Vietnamese and I have never been abroad .
  • agro Posts: 199
    QUOTE Nov 29, 2012 12:50 PM GMT
    I watched a lot of anime (in Japanese) when I was a kid and started formally studying Japanese when I was 13. I'm now 19 and I can speak it semi-fluently. I didn't go to Japan until I was 17 but by then I was speaking it pretty fluently as well.

    On the other hand, a lot of my friends that studied it with me hadn't been immersed in the culture but could speak it relatively well. It's definitely possible to learn a language without an understanding of cultural values and things like that but it's probably a lot harder.
  • Posted by a hidden member.Log in to view his profile
    QUOTE Nov 29, 2012 1:08 PM GMT
    Learning a language is something that requires a big commitment. We are on a forum where people work out a lot so I will use this metaphor.
    If you work out just once in a while, with no logic. You will never make any progress. You will feel like it is impossible. And even if you work very well, it will take months to see the first results, and years of constant hard work to finally reach your ideal.
    You just need to give you the means to succeed, and to know that it will take time.
    From my own experience, I know that you cannot speak a language if you just sudy it a few hours every week. You really need to be almost constantly in contact with the language. So going to the country is of course the most logical way. But not the only one. It will not be in school that you will really know how to speak.
    I studied English at school for approximately 12 years. What did I learn? Almost nothing. I learnt how to speak English by systematically watching american movies and series in English with subtitles (first French subtitles, then English subtitles, then no subtitles), by making English-speaking friends and read in English (books and internet). It is easier to learn English cause English language stuff is really easily reachable though.
    For Japanese, I studied it in Uni for 2 years (30hours per week of studies) and when I finally arrived in Japan, my level allowed me barely to communicate. Now after one year living there I can say I speak fluently.
    So learning a language is a big commitment. It is not that difficult, but it requires lots of time and work, just like the work out thing icon_smile.gif
  • hqedavid Posts: 17
    QUOTE Nov 29, 2012 1:19 PM GMT
    it is really hard, i speak 4languages - 2 (english and afrikaans) of which were spoken around me as a kid and teenager and today, and then i studied latin&portugues at university level, where i did become relatively fluent. I learnt spanish when i lived for a while in portugal and now can old myself in a spanish conversation (i learnt the spanish as an adult).

    I think it is key to surround yourself and be immersed in language/culture when learning the language.

    I work now as a translator/interpreter, and you will find most of us in the field have grown up in environments where there are different languages spoken, not dialects.
    thus some folk, sorry to those who are americans and british (english speakers by origin) struggle the most with learning a new language unless they studied a foreign language intensively on a school and university level.

    much love and greeting from a hot (34degrees C) Pretoria, South Africa
  • Posted by a hidden member.Log in to view his profile
    QUOTE Nov 29, 2012 1:30 PM GMT
    TheAlchemixt saidDoes anyone here know anyone that has actually learned a language from scratch without going to the country of the language in which they are studying?
    I know many people who have taken like 6 years of Spanish, French, or German but can barely speak any of it. Is it possible to learn languages without going to the country?
    Has anyone met anyone who has done so? I've only met two Americans who have learned a foreign language as an adult but they only learned because they had been immersed in the culture.
    Do you think learning languages without being immersed is impossible???


    No, it's not impossible. About 10% of the population possesses an innate facility for rapid language acquisition. I studied Chinese entirely in the US for 6 years, starting in college at age 18, and at the end, every Taiwanese person I meet now is amazed that I never spent more than one month abroad.

    It required a good deal of work outside of class. Lots of repetitious reading and copying of material, and exposure to extra-curricular material. But at no point was I anywhere near "immersed." At the end of 6 years, I took a federally proctored exam for written and spoken Chinese, and I scored at "professional working proficiency."

    Of course, my Chinese improved heaps after I moved to Taiwan. It's a lot more idiomatic, instead of just proper.
  • drypin Posts: 1786
    QUOTE Nov 29, 2012 1:31 PM GMT
    I know only two people who managed it without immersion - one learned Spanish and the other learned Russian. Their trick was to replace immersion with exposure. They couldn't immerse themselves in a land where most people spoke the language, so they did what they could - with lots of DVDs, music, audio tapes (now I suppose podcasts would be the thing), and seeking out those rare opportunities to practice with a native speaker.

    The trick isn't just acquiring the language, though. It's maintaining that same level of skill. Even English, my native language, suffers if I don't use it all the time. My vocabulary diminishes first, then sentence structure starts to sound foreign. I speak to so few Americans, I can't even vouch that my pronunciation doesn't sound like some mishmash of cultures.
  • Posted by a hidden member.Log in to view his profile
    QUOTE Nov 29, 2012 1:34 PM GMT
    TheAlchemixt saidDoes anyone here know anyone that has actually learned a language from scratch without going to the country of the language in which they are studying?
    I know many people who have taken like 6 years of Spanish, French, or German but can barely speak any of it. Is it possible to learn languages without going to the country?
    Has anyone met anyone who has done so? I've only met two Americans who have learned a foreign language as an adult but they only learned because they had been immersed in the culture.
    Do you think learning languages without being immersed is impossible???


    On the other hand, I'm afraid I have to point out the counter-example: I know LOTS of foreigners in Taiwan who have lived here for 5+ years and speak no Chinese at all. Even one who married a Taiwanese native!
  • Posted by a hidden member.Log in to view his profile
    QUOTE Nov 29, 2012 1:41 PM GMT
    redacting said
    TheAlchemixt saidDoes anyone here know anyone that has actually learned a language from scratch without going to the country of the language in which they are studying?
    I know many people who have taken like 6 years of Spanish, French, or German but can barely speak any of it. Is it possible to learn languages without going to the country?
    Has anyone met anyone who has done so? I've only met two Americans who have learned a foreign language as an adult but they only learned because they had been immersed in the culture.
    Do you think learning languages without being immersed is impossible???


    On the other hand, I'm afraid I have to point out the counter-example: I know LOTS of foreigners in Taiwan who have lived here for 5+ years and speak no Chinese at all. Even one who married a Taiwanese native!


    Yeah but I think those are people who do not make any effort, most of the time. Especially if English is your mother tongue, you can become lazy and think "anyway everybody understands English, why would-I have to learn their language?"
  • Posted by a hidden member.Log in to view his profile
    QUOTE Nov 29, 2012 1:50 PM GMT
    First, i think it all depends on the person learning the language. Some people are just gifted with the ability to learn a new language just like some others can become experts with math or science.

    Second, I do think there needs to be some form of immersion or exposure to that language. I studied French for many years and although I could speak it pretty well, I was nowhere near fluent. I have only been learning American Sign Language for about 4-5 months and I can already hold a pretty decent conversation. This is because I visit a lot of local Deaf clubs / groups which help me practice in a natural environment.
  • Posted by a hidden member.Log in to view his profile
    QUOTE Nov 29, 2012 1:51 PM GMT
    It depends on the person. Some find it extremely boring and difficult, some really entertaining and challenging.

    My native language is Spanish but know English and a bit of Portuguese and French (next year I'll be more advanced on those). Planning to start Finnish and German soon.

    As you can see, I love languages and, luckily, I find them easy. Of course some more than others which also is because of the proximity from your mother tongue with the language you're trying to learn.

    For me (Spanish) Portuguese, Italian, French and Romanian should be easier then German, Czech, etc since we have same roots, Latin.

    So it all depends if you like it or not, if you are going to dedicate enough time to it and which language you're planning to learn depending on the ones you already know.
  • Posted by a hidden member.Log in to view his profile
    QUOTE Nov 29, 2012 2:10 PM GMT
    I really like Rosetta Stone. I stuck with it consistently for only 3 weeks. But, in those 3 weeks I could already feel myself getting better. I always have like 10 interesting projects going at once, so I start many things. No, I don't have ADHD. I just really love trying lots of different things. I practiced about 30 minutes everyday and there are online games and tutorials to help you improve. Rosetta is a little expensive: $200 - $500 depending on how many levels you buy. But, it was a lot of fun and I know that if I stuck with it, it would have been enough to get me started so that I could start reading and interacting more with native speakers to just get better and better.

    If you go to their website, there is an online demo where you get to see what it is like. It isn't just vocab words you memorize. It's actually a pretty cool way to learn a language.

  • DanOmatic Posts: 1144
    QUOTE Nov 29, 2012 2:21 PM GMT
    I grew up in an under-served rural community, so I never had a chance to learn foreign languages until I got to college. I am happy to say that I had an aptitude for them and am considered a "near-native" speaker of both Dutch and German (which means that it's hard to distinguish me from a native speaker).

    I say this to dispel the notion that you can't learn languages fluently as an adult. The keys to learning languages well as an adult are 1) good, solid personal classroom instruction in the basics of grammar and communication followed by 2) long periods of time in an environment where you can "live and breathe" the target language in all of its variations and imperfections on a daily basis. Very few people can achieve language fluency as an adult without # 2.

    I tried Rosetta Stone prior to going to Italy a couple of summers ago (I hate not having at least some basic functionality in the language of a place I'm visiting) and thought it was a huge waste of money. It will teach you a few nice, random words, but it doesn't teach the building blocks of communicating in a genuine way.
  • Posted by a hidden member.Log in to view his profile
    QUOTE Nov 29, 2012 2:23 PM GMT
    I learned English 12 years before I even sat my foot in England.. So yup.
  • Androfski Posts: 5
    QUOTE Nov 29, 2012 2:45 PM GMT
    The answer to your questions is both yes and no.

    1. Can you learn a language as an adult?
    Yes. You can actually learn a language to fluency as an adult in a fraction of the time it would have taken you to learn a language as a child. It takes 12-16 years to become fully fluent in your first language, while with concerted study it can take only 3 years of study to learn it as an adult (this greatly varies based on how close or distant your target language is from your native language).

    You can learn a language as a child with little effort on your part, but it takes a very long time. If you're learning that language solely from your parents as a heritage speaker, you usually come away with meager skills in the language. Many heritage speakers only learn a few thousand words and a good command of the grammar and the ability to fluently use that knowledge. If you were to use CEFR standards to judge their aptitude in the language, they wouldn't score out of the intermediate range. This is obviously not true of everyone. It depends on how much more exposure the child has to that language and how much they are formally taught in the language.

    Example. Student lives in Minnesota and is raised by two Venezuelan parents who speak Spanish at home. If the only exposure this child has to Spanish is from from their parents using the language at home, they would not have the knowledge set to be able to claim fluency. If those parents sent that child to a bilingual school where they were formally taught with Spanish speaking teachers and Spanish literature then they definitely would become fluent by the time they were 16.

    2. Can you learn a language without ever going to the country where the target language is spoken?

    This depends on what you mean by knowing a language. According to most estimates, you can reach a low or high intermediate stage in the language (range of 5000-10000 words, good command of the grammar, makes mistakes but in no way impedes communication, and can spontaneously speak on almost any topic with ease, especially about topics related to enjoyed activities and their professional work)*. You can get around this to a degree if you have consistent language partners who are willing to only speak in the target language to you.

    Good example would be a husband learning Spanish to a high level because his wife is from Ecuador and only speaks Spanish in the home.

    Do you know people who have achieved this?

    Many dozens of people.

    Addendum- This is from the point of view of an English speaker learning other foreign languages. This obviously changes when one is learning languages like English which is spoken by over almost a billion people as a second language and you have a far greater chance of having spontaneous exposure to the language in your daily life.

    *to become fluent, it usually takes between 20000-25000 words. There's a big gap between intermediate speakers and fluent speakers.
  • Posted by a hidden member.Log in to view his profile
    QUOTE Nov 29, 2012 2:54 PM GMT
    I started learning Arabic 4 1/2 years ago with no prior exposure to the language. I do admit that I have an affinity for languages and I have a ridiculous curiosity about grammar. I studied Mandarin for two years in college just for kicks and at the time my tones were good enough to engage with native speakers reasonably well.

    I visited Morocco (for three weeks) a bit more than a year ago with friends who speak only English and I served as their "interpreter." In the parts of Morocco to which we traveled English would not have been an option. We got around perfectly fine including a stressful situation upon our arrival in which our flight time was so delayed that our accommodations were unavailable and we were left standing on the street at 3am with you petit taxi drivers who wanted to charge exorbitant rates to drive us to a city that might have hotel rooms available.

    This was my first exposure to actually using the language outside of a classroom setting, so I would say that it is possible to learn a language well without immersion and without growing up speaking the language. Is it necessarily easy? No. Am I fluent? No, not at this point... but I'm at the point that I can follow courses in grammar and lit entirely in Arabic.

    And Rosetta Stone. icon_rolleyes.gif Feh! It's complete rubbish for Arabic. Out of curiosity I zipped through the first two levels and learned a bunch of useless nouns with formal case endings that are rarely used outside of very formal contexts aka you'd be met with broad smiles and laughter on the street for speaking that way.
  • Posted by a hidden member.Log in to view his profile
    QUOTE Nov 30, 2012 1:03 AM GMT
    I don't think it's impossible, but you have to be dedicated to it. Having a native of the language helps too.

    I've learned a bit of Spanish just from observing my family. I've learned a few words from the Japanese language just from Anime/mange, icon_eek.gif ... and google translate. I can't speak any other language (too lazy to learn the whole language) but if I really wanted to I could probably learn.

    It's not a spoken language, but I learned a good amount of ASL (American Sign Language). Since I don't have anyone to talk to my skills are a bit rusty, but still there for the most part.
  • Posted by a hidden member.Log in to view his profile
    QUOTE Nov 30, 2012 1:59 AM GMT
    My brother tried Rosetta Stone to learn Spanish. It really seems to be working for him. He's 34 years old and has never been to any country where Spanish is the main language.
  • Posted by a hidden member.Log in to view his profile
    QUOTE Nov 30, 2012 2:00 AM GMT
    Being Bilingual is not terribly difficult, now trilingual has a learning curve icon_eek.gif
  • Posted by a hidden member.Log in to view his profile
    QUOTE Nov 30, 2012 2:29 AM GMT
    Bustamante saidBeing Bilingual is not terribly difficult, now trilingual has a learning curve icon_eek.gif


    Which is? I'm curious cause actually being trilingual or more is even easier. You already know the mechanism and how to learn a language so it really is easier.
  • kevmoran Posts: 1496
    QUOTE Nov 30, 2012 2:40 AM GMT
    It also depends on the language. I learned French through school and exposure through shows and DVDs and stuff and it was fun and really easy. But then I tried to learn Chinese... it was horrible, I went through 2 years and couldn't even give you a full sentence.
  • TheAlchemixt Posts: 2283
    QUOTE Nov 30, 2012 2:48 AM GMT
    Aristoshark said
    Karl said I have never been a broad .

    There are operations if you want to change that.


    LOL Aristoshark!


    Oh and thanks for the input guys. I was just wondering, I think it really does depend on the person and I really do like how Isugemi said it was like working out. I do work out so it makes sense to me that way.
    I am actually going to try to learn spanish via immersion I leave for Latin America in two days. As long as I don't get caught up in the party scene, I think I should be okay. icon_biggrin.gif